Waterproof And Resistant Barefoot Shoes For Summer Or Winter

Yesterday marked the first day in Chicago of cold autumn rain. And certainly not the last. Being an avid walker in all types of weather, that means I have to have footwear that can handle 

wet weather -- any kind of wet weather from hot rain to snow. Of course you can get rainboots anywhere, but traditional rainboots have some serious issues. 

Why Traditional Rainboots Are Bad (For most uses)

Rainboots like the Hunter Wellingtons shown above are perfect for riding horses. Their solid construction and heel makes them perfect for working with large livestock and putting your feet in stirrups. 

But I don't ride horses very often. When I'm walking in the rain in Chicago this kind of construction makes them excessively heavy and their stiff construction and heel impairs a natural walking form. When I walk over 4 miles every single day, I don't want to carry this kind of weight. I also don't think it's very good for your feet to walk long distances with a heel. Allowing your feet to move naturally gives them a full workout, resulting in stronger healthier feet (arch support? your fully exercised feet will support themselves). You can't get that kind of a workout in a shoe that impairs your movement.

Are you riding a horse? Mucking out a barn full of cows? If not, you don't need these kind of features. 

Luckily there are a few alternatives out there for those of us who want something more minimalist. 

My Criteria

Flexibility - standing on the foot's ball in the Bog's Summit

What I look for in shoes is:

  • Flexibility: I don't want my feet stuck on a stiff plane- I want them to be able to flex. The test for this is weather or not you can flex to stand on just the ball of your foot.
  • Durability: Most of these shoes are not cheap. If I'm going to pay that much, I want them to last. And last through a life of walking miles every single day.
  • Zero-drop: Heels impair my natural stride. I don't want them. I want a completely flat sole.
  • Weatherization: Handling a wide range of temperatures comfortably, ability to handle all kinds of weather from sleet to drizzle and everything in between
  • Foot Freedom: Does the shoe cramp the foot into a tiny narrow toe box? Or does it allow the foot to move freely?
  • Casual: You won't see many Five Fingers on this list. I don't want anything that looks like I'm going to the gym. I just want normal-ish shoes.
  • Little/No Arch Support: Strong feet will support themselves

Katy Says also has some great info about criteria to look for in shoes.

Flexible Lightweight Rubber Boots

Rubber is probably the definitive waterproof material. When I went to Scotland I bought some Vivo Barefoot rubber Wellingtons that performed really well in wet environments without being very heavy. In fact they were great for traveling too because they could be folded up nicely for packing.

 

Vivo Barefoot Wellingtons (Discontinued 2013 Model)

Durability: Poor (test range: 2 years, breakage occurred at 6-months)
Temperature range: 45 F- 60 F
Waterproofing: 100%, Rain-only
Flexibility: High
Foot Freedom: Medium
Cost: ~$50, but I bought a kid's size, they were twice as high for adults
Potential Alternatives: The New Waterloo models, Tretorn or Bogs Lightweight rubber boots
Similar, but for men: Tretorn

Unfortunately rubber has a ton of disadvantages. Many flexible rubbers don't handle even relatively minor temperature fluctuations very well. The Vivo Barefoot Wellingtons split only 6 months after I got them. I repaired them with shoe goo, but they are not the same. They have a new version out as of Autumn 2015 called Waterloo. If you've tried it I'm curious to know what you think.

But the problem with rubber is it's not breathable. It can get muggy in rubber boots. Sometimes the rain forecast is wrong and then you'll be stuck in hot and sweater rubber boots all day for no reason. 

Does your daily commute involve bogs or marshes? Is it literally flooded where you live? Do you want to stand in large puddles? Do you work on a fishing boat? Do you need to walk through mud or manure? If not, you probably don't really need rubber boots and we can move on to other options.

Water-Resistant Boots

These boots are not completely waterproof, but possess different levels of water resistance. In return for not being entirely waterproof, they are much more breathable, so they can be worn comfortable even when it's not raining/sleeting.

Some of them claim to be 100% waterproof, but that's a lie– if you stand in a giant puddle with them for long enough you will eventually get wet. But they can handle most rain and many can also handle snow/sleet. A disadvantage is in very heavy rain the outer parts of these boots will get wet and take some time to dry later, but if the boot is well-made, the water won't penetrate to where your feet are. The other problem is they can get stained, so they are not a good choice for mud or other dirty sticky terrains. Rubber boots can be hosed off, these often can't.

Vivo Barefoot Short Boots (Discontinued)

Durability: High (test range: 5 years)
Temperature range: 25 F- 65 F
Waterproofing: 60%, rain, sleet and snow
Flexibility: High
Foot Freedom: Medium
Cost: ~$150, the only similarly water resistant Vivo model on the market now, the Ryder, is $200+. They make another short boot, but it doesn't say anything about water resistance and plus it looks like Uggs
Potential Alternatives: Camper's Wabi, Otz Troop
Similar, but for men: Cushe Matthias, Otz Troop

I keep meaning to replace these because they are ugly and have some serious design flaws like the outer cord, which can get caught on things. But they are so lightweight and can handle rain pretty well and even snow if you wear thick enough socks. In NYC these functioned as both my rain and snow boots. I know Vivo now has some other water resistant boots, but I haven't tried them because these have lasted long enough. They were expensive, but worth it considering the durability. Unfortunately with my experience with their Wellingtons being much less positive, I can't guarantee their other offerings are so durable.

Bogs Summit

Durability: Medium (owned 1 year, has minor piling)
Temperature range: 25 F- 55 F
Waterproofing: 70%, rain, sleet and snow
Flexibility: High
Foot Freedom: Low-Medium, toe box is a bit narrower than VIvo's
Cost: I got mine on sale for ~$60, regular price is $100
Similar, but for men: Unknown, nothing that Bog's makes for men is this lightweight/flexible. Maybe the Camper Peu Pista, Otz Trooper, these awesome but $$$ sailing boots by Slam, Zhik Seaboots, Henri Lloyd Ocean Warrior Boots (a "deck boot")

I love these so far. Super lightweight, not as ugly as the Vivo Boots I have and they don't have any dangling cords. Not 100% minimalist, but almost zero-drop and very flexible.

Jika Tabi

Durability: High (test range: 1 year)
Temperature range: 40 F- 70 F
Waterproofing: 20%, very light rain
Flexibility: High
Foot Freedom: Medium
Cost: These Jikatabi Nisshin Rubber for ~$30 on Ebay shipped from Japan
Similar, but for men: They make tons of jika tabi for men (they are used by the construction industry in Japan), just search Ebay for construction boots like these.

Almost so anti-fashion they become fashionable in a weird way. Like turning your feet into tires– they were invented by a tire company after all. I ordered these on Ebay and they can handle light rain OK due to some rubber coverage on the uppers. The major advantage is most of the uppers is just cloth and is very breathable.

Very cold weather is a great example of when shoes that allow natural movement give you a huge advantage. When I used to wear stiff Bean Boots as snow boots, the fact they don't allow your feet to really move turned my feet into blocks of ice. The ideal very cold weather boot should perform like a traditional Arctic mukluk and allow your feet to truly move, generating heat and preventing them from getting really cold.

Cushe Cabin Fever

Durability: High (4 + years heavy wear)
Temperature range: -30 F- 40 F
Waterproofing: 80%, snow, sleet
Flexibility: Medium
Foot Freedom: Medium
Cost: I paid $145 when they first came out, but they are on sale for less now.
Potential alternatives: Merrell Frost Glove (unfortunately has an arch support), Otz's Troop, Vivo's Ryder, Bog's Boga, Manitobah Mukluks (may not handle sleet as well)
Similar, but for men: Cushe After-Ride, some of Manitobah's more minimal designs

I hate faux fur (just leave it off if it's not real), so I almost didn't buy these. But they have held up amazingly through several Chicago winters, including the infamous "polar vortex" last year. Their Vibram sole is thick, but reasonably flexible and zero-drop. For ice traction though I highly recommend carrying some ice cleats like Yak Trax in your purse. This model is discontinued (you can still find it online some places though), but there are some other similar options available. Sadly some of their newer models aren't zero drop and the last thing you need in snow boots is a heel.

Sadly there aren't a lot of options out there in this category. Many boots have a very narrow temperature range or they can't handle much in the way of wet weather (like my nice flexible Blowfish Boots).

Warmer Weather Options

Temperatures above 80 F make it extremely hard to find footwear that can handle rain. Even the lightest weight textile boots above are uncomfortable at these temperatures. The main option is to accept your feet probably will get wet, which is kind of OK since it's not cold, though gross, and at least have the shoes themselves not ruined, easy to clean, and dry quickly.

Sexi Flip

Durability: High (3 + years heavy wear)
Temperature range: 75+
Waterproofing: 100%
Flexibility: High
Foot Freedom: High
Cost: ~$30
Potential alternatives: Xero shoes, Luna
Similar, but for men: Xero Shoes, Luna

These are certainly less ugly than most Crocs and luckily they share high durability with their ugly cousins. After a year of heavy wear these finally stretched out. I put them on the top rack of the dishwasher and they were good as new. Unlike the Xeros or the Barefoot Teds you can't run very well in them though, so if you want a dual purpose shoe, I'd recommend those.

Now after 3 years, I wore the soles down, but I repaired them successfully with Shoe Goo

Image from Tread Light

Tread Light Maori Sandal

Durability: High (1+ years)
Temperature range: 75+
Waterproofing: 70%
Flexibility: High
Foot Freedom: High
Cost: ~$85
Similar, but for men: Men's model

Handmade in the US, these look pretty great, though the footbed is a bit less streamlined than the Sexi's, as well as a bit heavier. They are less technically waterproof too, though they can handle getting wet, because they take longer to dry since the laces are leather.

Sperry Son-R Flex

Durability: Low (showed damage after a few months)
Temperature range: 60+
Waterproofing: 70%
Flexibility: High
Foot Freedom: High
Cost: ~$75
Potential Alternatives: OTZ Shoes Semis Goat Leather look cool, but might be ruined by water, Soft Star Ballerine looks perfect, and an email from the company indicates they can handle rain.


Completely and totally flexible and minimalist. The black model is so non-descript you can easily wear it anywhere. No need to break in and stays on even when doing things like biking. Also ultra-lightweight and easy to pack. Material of uppers is similar to Vibrams, so breathable, but of course your feet will get wet, though it won't destroy the shoe at least. What will destroy the shoe is wearing it a lot, as it scuff easily. Unfortunately it also has the other main downside of Vibrams: with heavy use, it smells bad. I soak mine in Efferdent (actually a Vibram-recommended practice) and throw them in the wash and then they are fine though. I think my ideal shoe would be this footbed, with a mesh upper, and a hard durable cap toe, with an optional strap.

BUT do NOT buy the newer shiny models (pewter, silver, and a black with camo liners). They look great (at first) but are made of a less breathable and more fragile material. It only gets worse. I have the silver ones and am trying to get them to take them back because one night I walked a few blocks in the rain and they dyed my feet black, which took a lot of scrubbing to get off. Obviously not washing machine safe and pretty bad for a shoe that advertises "Adaptive Wave-Siping™ disperses water for improved traction on wet or dry surfaces"

Astral Mary Jay

Durability: Unknown (just purchased, but they seem pretty tough)
Temperature range: 50+
Waterproofing: 70%
Flexibility: Medium
Foot Freedom: Medium
Cost: ~$79
Potential Alternatives: Betabrand's Flip Slips seemed promising, but I found them extremely tight and stiff when I tried them on at their SF store.


These have some pretty awesome design features. They are built to handle water and even have drainage holes so they won't get waterlogged. Unfortunately the cloth they are made of, while durable, did a number on my bare skin. I would recommend socks and/or Band-Aid Friction Block while you break them in.

Let us know your own recommendations and tips in the comments. And follow my Pinterest Board for shoes that interest me that I may not have tested yet.

Updates (Initially published Sep 2014)

August 2015: Added info about new Vivo Barefoot rainboots, updated durability ratings. Added into about repairing Crocs. Added Son-R Flex and Astral. Added link to Pininterest.